Campus News

Distinguished visiting scholar earns 2022 Creative Capital Award

Crystal Campbell.

Crystal Z Campbell is a multidisciplinary artist, experimental filmmaker and writer of African American, Filipino, and Chinese descents.


Published April 22, 2022

I worked for the United States Postal Service when I graduated from high school, with the encouragement of my parents, who were both full-time postal employees. I became fascinated with the mail, and how mail has been critical in shaping nationalism.
Crystal Z Campbell, Distinguished Visiting Scholar
UB Center for Diversity Innovation

Before coming to UB as a Distinguished Visiting Scholar, multidisciplinary artist Crystal Z Campbell took part in fellowships and residencies all over the globe. 

“I was quite a nomadic artist, moving from residency (or fellowship) to residency in places as varied as Amsterdam, a fishing village in Iceland, New York City, a coastal town in Sweden, Tulsa, and many others … I think more than 13 residencies at this point,” Campbell says. 

While each of these different locations and positions have made their impressions upon Campbell as an artist, one place stands out from the rest: the U.S. Postal Service. 

“I worked for the United States Postal Service when I graduated from high school, with the encouragement of my parents, who were both full-time postal employees. I became fascinated with the mail, and how mail has been critical in shaping nationalism," Campbell explains. 

This unique focus on USPS is what garnered Campbell a 2022 Creative Capital Award for their experimental film, performance, painting and publication project entitled “Post Masters.” Campbell will be in residence in Cambridge at Harvard Radcliffe this summer, conducting research for “Post Masters” in Harvard’s libraries and archives.

“Post Masters is my most autobiographical work. It is an experimental film, performance, painting and publication project looking at the intersections between USPS and the U.S. military through the lens of both Filipinx and Black histories,” Campbell says. 

The 2022 Creative Capital Awards recognize 50 projects by 59 artists from all over the country. The projects span a range of genres, including literature, performance, the visual arts, moving image, technology and socially engaged art. Each project will receive up to $50,000 in direct funding, supplemented by career development and networking services to foster thriving artistic careers.

A film still from Campbell’s film-based art installation VIEWFINDER showing three children on a balcony.

A film still from Crystal Z Campbell’s film-based art installation VIEWFINDER. Image: Courtesy of Crystal Z Campbell

Campbell is a multidisciplinary artist, experimental filmmaker and writer  of African American, Filipinx and Chinese descents whose practice centers on archival research. They find complexity in public secrets — fragments of information known by many but untold or unspoken. According to Campbell, the 2022 Creative Capital Award, along with previous funding from Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, allows them to further examine the U.S.-Filipinx relationship, which will be considered alongside parallel histories of Black Americana in U.S. expansion and imperialism, using Campbell’s own intertwined Black and Filipinx family histories as a viewfinder to frame what it means to be(come) American.

“Something that makes Creative Capital unique is that because the support is expansive and the project can take place over five years, it gives artists a chance to work through research, experimentation and making connections through the process, while providing scaffolding for how the work will live,” Campbell says. “What Creative Capital offers is a rare quality — a chance for artists to slow down and spend years carefully researching and developing a single body of work. I hold close this gift, aiming for however long ‘Post Masters’ takes to give it the body and time it requires.” 

In the meantime, Campbell continues to write and create, and is unveiling a solo exhibition at the Buffalo Arts Studio, co-presented by Squeaky Wheel, on April 22. 

“I’ll be reimagining a film called ‘VIEWFINDER’ I shot pre-pandemic in the Swedish coastal village of Varberg with recent migrants to Sweden as a film-based art installation that includes some new sculptures and photo collages,” Campbell says of the exhibit. “A lot of my work is a consideration of place, and a consideration of displacement. In the exhibition space, I like to suggest a choreography for the viewing experience through the placement and juxtaposition of objects. It is a dance, through fragments of information that we share.

“This immersive film installation takes cues from Swedish folktales, gestures and movements to explore belonging, allyship and living monuments. If our bodies are archives, what is the currency of place, of movement, of memory?”

Campbell will finish out the Distinguished Scholar appointment in the College of Arts and Sciences this spring, and says they’ve enjoyed being affiliated with the departments of Art and Media Study, both in the College of Arts and Sciences.

“Being at UB has given me a chance to manifest my curiosity about academia into being, to be part of a cohort of rigorous scholars and be mentored by them, to work with amazing students, to engage with programming, to learn about Buffalo’s and Western New York’s many layers of complex history with land and indigeneity, and reflect on the Underground Railroad and Love Canal disaster, and how that history lingers,” Campbell says.

Being a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at UB has also allowed Campbell the opportunity to reflect of their creative path to this point.

“I’ve long been curious about academia. I’ve been a visiting artist at MICA, Northwestern and Duke University in the last year, and the more I visit with students, peers and faculty, the more I begin to consider what an academic life might be and what I could share from two decades of experience as an artist with students forging their own creative paths,” Campbell says.

“But mostly, I think of an academic post as the chance to be a guide. I stay in awe of the students, who are constantly teaching us new ways of looking, of using language that redirects attention, of questioning our own assumptions through their creative research. I enjoy being able to ponder critical questions from the vantage points they share. I'm excited to be officially joining UB in the Fall of 2022 as a Visiting Associate Professor in Art and Media.”